U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced an initiative Monday aimed at stopping American extremists from joining terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Holder said pilot programs will take place in cities across the U.S. and will bring together community representatives, religious leaders, public safety officials and Justice Department officials. Together, Holder said those groups will come up with local strategies, raise awareness and come up with best practices to counter violent extremism.
The announcement comes as world leaders meet in Paris for the International Conference on Peace and Security in Iraq in effort to drum up support against ISIS, an al-Qaeda offshoot that has taken control of parts of Syria and northern Iraq. The terrorist group released a propaganda video over the weekend showing the execution of British aid worker David Cawthorne Haines – the latest gruesome attack in a troubling string of beheadings by the group.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has estimated that more than 100 Americans are fighting with ISIS extremists.
Holder said in a video announcing the new initiative that its goal is to “ultimately to build a broad network of community partnerships to keep our nation safe.” The White House will also hold a summit in October on violent extremism.
At the beginning of the conference in Paris, where leaders from more than 20 nation’s gathered, French President Francois Hollande stressed the need for an international response. “The terrorist threat is global and the response must be global. There is no time to lose,” he said. French officials also announced they would begin reconnaissance flights over Iraq on Monday.
Attendees at the summit included representatives from the Arab League, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, The Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and the U.S.
The United States has used airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq and is trying to build a coalition of countries to back its efforts to destroy the militant group. White House officials reportedly said on Sunday that “several” Arab countries have committed to carrying out airstrikes on against ISIS, although officials would not identify which countries extended an offer.
Australian officials, responding to a request by the U.S., said on Sunday that they will send 600 troops – 400 air force personnel and 200 special forces – to a global coalition fighting ISIS.
The ISIS threat is also expected to dominate this week back in the U.S. on Capitol Hill. The White House wants Congress to vote in favor of arming and training Syrian rebels as part of Obama’s plan to decimate the terrorist group.
Leaders of both parties back Obama’s strategy to target ISIS, but some are weary of supporting the rebels, others want to take stronger action and some lawmakers are concerned about getting embroiled in another war.
On Tuesday, Hagel and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey are scheduled to testify on the escalating situation before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been traveling in the Middle East trying to encourage Arab allies to join the global coalition to fight ISIS, will appear before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to talk about America’s strategy. Later that day, FBI Director James Comey and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will speak to the House Committee on Homeland Security. And then on Thursday, Kerry will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Hagel will appear before the House Armed Services Committee. On Friday, Kerry will be in New York to chair a ministerial debate on Iraq at the United Nation's Security Council.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” described what success against ISIS would look like.
Success means that ISIS “no longer threatens our friends in the region, no longer threatens the United States … that can’t accumulate followers, or threaten Muslims in Syria, Iran, Iraq, or otherwise,” he said.
McDonough stressed the plan does not involve U.S. ground troops.